Personal Growth

Too Good to Fail?

man falling off board into huge wave

I’m a failure. I keep coming up short and missing the mark. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s also not something I’m ashamed to admit.

I wasn’t always comfortable with failure, and I’m still not. I don’t love letting people down and I’m not a big fan of my shortcomings. But I’m learning to appreciate them and share them more for my sake and the sake of others.

I used to be the person who wouldn’t swing unless he could hit a home run. In college, I wouldn’t take a class unless I could get an easy “A.” I wouldn’t play a game or sport unless I could easily win. I wouldn’t ask a girl out unless she was sure to say yes.

But why do you and I fear failure so much? It’s not like it’s a rare thing to find in people’s lives. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. No one in your life is perfect. Yet we’re scared to make mistakes, to fail here and there — to admit that we’re not perfect.

There’s only one thing you and I will never fail at, and that’s failing from time to time. I’ve found ways to overcome my fear of failure, and the results haven’t only been good for me, they’ve been good for others, too.

Fail like you mean it.

Failure isn’t always sinful. There are many ways you and I are imperfect in sinless ways.

Take this blog post, for example. It’s not necessarily award-winning material.

As a writer, I was crippled by a fear of imperfection. Writers call fear of failure “writer’s block.” You put nothing on the page unless it’s brilliant. For most writers that equates to putting nothing on the page.

The best way to overcome writer’s block is to put something on the page. Anything. Because something is almost always better than nothing.

The same rule applies to life. Except your life isn’t a blank page. God started the story and filled your life with potential to finish the story in a way that glorifies Him. As the parable of the talents illustrates (Matthew 25:14-30), God has given us gifts and He expects us to use them — not bury them in the dirt.

Get out in the world, live each day expecting to fail at least once, and make the most of your failures. Failure is the stepping-stone to success. It’s the spice that gives life flavor. Can you imagine how dull life would be if you always succeeded without trying?

Embrace failure like it’s success.

I work at a rescue mission for people struggling with homelessness. Most of the people coming to us for help would consider themselves failures. Many people would agree with them. As I listen to their stories, though, the last thing that passes my mind is “what a hopeless failure.” I admire and respect them because — despite the odds stacked against them — they’re not giving up. They’re learning from the past and they keep on trying, no matter how many times they’ve failed before.

Some of the greatest success stories we know are rooted in failure. Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, James Dyson, Dr. Seuss and the Apostle Peter are all successful failures. They all have two important things in common: They failed, and they didn’t let that stop them.

Failure is debilitating when we let it define who we are. When you fail at something, are you ashamed? Even if it’s not a sinful failure? Do you internalize it and avoid talking about it with others? Does it cause you to lose confidence in your skills and abilities?

Simply put, failure is trying something that didn’t work out or turn out the way you expected. The risk of failure increases as your control over the situation decreases. For instance, if you ask someone out on a date or you interview for a new job, you have little control over the outcome. So if the answer is “no,” there’s no reason to let that failure define you. You tried your best, and that’s what should define you.

Don’t be ashamed of failure. Take it in stride. The people who fail the most are the ones who try the most. They keep on trying because they don’t let lackluster results define them. Their confidence isn’t in their results but in their perseverance until they succeed. Even though they fail a lot, they accomplish a lot more.

Your failures can inspire others.

Think about the most inspiring person in your life. Why does he or she inspire you?

I’m willing to guess it’s not because they haven’t had to work hard for anything and because everything they set out to achieve results in success. That’s like saying your favorite story began and ended with “once upon a time they all lived happily ever after.” Even fairy tales aren’t that easy.

We’re inspired by people who’ve failed like us and struggled with the same things we do and yet persevered. Thank God some people are open and willing to share about their failures.

When I run into a computer problem I can’t fix, I’m thankful for forums where people have the same problem. I’m even more grateful for the person who failed but eventually found a solution to the problem. Without them, I’d probably give up.

That’s true for life’s failures too. The greatest advice and support we can receive when we run into failure comes from people who have been there and done that.

So, if you learn to embrace your failure and openly share it, you can inspire people struggling with similar problems. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). This is the best way to combat the shame that comes with failure. There’s no shame in failing miserably if you can help others avoid mistakes or overcome their failures. If your failure inspires someone else’s success, that’s a huge achievement.

By far, the greatest example of this principle is Jesus. He took on mankind’s failure so you and I can be successful in ways otherwise unimaginable. The Apostle Paul said, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Unlike Jesus, we’re not becoming something we weren’t already when we share our failures with others. We’re all failures. We all fail in unique but similar ways. That only means there’s no need to fail alone. We should encourage, inspire and motivate one another to embrace and overcome failure. And that only happens if we’re willing to be open and honest about failure.

How have you failed recently and what have you learned from your experience?